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Top U.S. lawmaker: intelligence top priority in defense bill

U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) (2nd R) pauses during his remarks at a news conference on how "sequestr
U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) (2nd R) pauses during his remarks at a news conference on how "sequestr

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee said on Thursday that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities would be top priorities as the panel puts together this year's massive defense policy bill.

"If you don't know what somebody else is doing, you don't even know what your risks are," U.S. Representative Buck McKeon said during a meeting with reporters.

"You need to have information. That's always critical in any battle, in any war, in avoiding a war," the California Republican said.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, covers everything from unmanned planes such as the high-altitude Global Hawk that Northrop Grumman Corp builds for the Air Force to manned surveillance planes such as Boeing's P-8 aircraft. McKeon said military commanders were reluctant to give up the manned U-2 spy planes that the Air Force wants to retire in favor of the Global Hawk planes.

McKeon's panel this week began formal work on the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act in the coming months, with an eye toward getting the $600 billion bill through both the House of Representatives and Senate by October 1, before November's mid-term elections.

The huge bill authorizes everything from overall defense spending levels and military pay to procurement of weapons systems and military-related foreign policy issues.

McKeon, who is retiring from the House this year, also said he was concerned that the U.S. submarine fleet was too small.

McKeon said it was unclear if the committee would fund the Navy's request for 22 Boeing Co EA-18G electronic attack planes, which were not included in the Pentagon's base budget proposal.

He said subcommittees were considering the matter, and he did not want to inject his opinion.

"We'll have to look at that and see," he said. "You can go to every weapons system we have and there are reasons why we should have it, or why we should have more of them. But then you have to weigh it against the fact that we don't have the money."

McKeon declined to say what might be on the bottom of his priority list. He is a vocal opponent of the severe across-the-board cuts, under a procedure known as sequestration, forcing the Pentagon to reduce its spending by nearly $1 trillion over a decade.

He said he was not aware of a meeting this week by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, first reported by Politico, seeking a bipartisan way to address budget concerns and eliminate sequestration.

He said he was interested - within limits.

"I'd like to talk to them and see what they are talking about. What they're thinking about, I don't know. If they are talking about increased taxes, it's probably a non-starter here," McKeon said.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Grant McCool)

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